Greetings readers, and defenders of the Commander Social Contract!
People have many reasons for playing Commander, and it is our prerogative as players to seek differing viewpoints to understand other players’ idea of fun – for understanding’s sake, and also become better Magic-playing humans. To this end, I’ve done my best to prepare the most logical argument on behalf of the much-maligned Land Destruction player. My hope is that you’ll read and see their rationale.
LAND DESTRUCTION AFFECTS ALL PLAYERS
It’s easy to forget that Land Destruction affects all players. Short of casting a Wake of Destruction on a Mono-White player or activating Ajani Vengeant’s Ultimate, there are very few instances where the Land Destruction player isn’t also sabotaging their own board. In almost every case, players who use Land Destruction have a threat they can protect, or they’re ahead enough on resources that they can rebuild faster than their opponents.
While I can’t be certain of the latter, I can say casting Catastrophe for land, or any other Land Destruction spell, comes with huge cost and risk for the player playing it, too. In that way, it isn’t usually a targeted cruelty, but a calculated measure taken as part of a winning game plan.
RAMP DECKS ARE OUT OF CONTROL
Over the last several years, Green has become extremely good in Commander, and though I can point to a consistent stream of ramp spells and elusive threats, there isn’t a specific card we can wag our collective finger at. From Boundless Realms to Karametra to Harvest Season and Traverse the Outlands, Green can power out a ton of lands, get very far ahead of everyone, cast Carnage Tyrant, and face little recourse.
The problem is this: Commander players still want to play “bigger” games than fans of other Constructed formats, yet the attitude toward general competition and playgroup politicking has been to play what people won’t be afraid of. This is because Commander has changed, while the “spirit of the format” really hasn’t.
In this case, what’s needed is an understanding and acceptance of an existing archetype to shift the balance of power, redefine the “spirit of the format,” and provide new angles to Commander. Although Land Destruction should not be expected in every Commander game, it shouldn’t be shunned as a solution for some of the general problems we consider when we think about the current metagame.
A SOLUTION TO CONTROL DECKS
Are you tired of all those Control decks pushing you around?
One of the best reasons to play Land Destruction is because an Armageddon and a decent threat are too much for Control decks to handle. Even with cheap, efficient spells, most Control decks need to manage their resources as tightly as they manage the board. In Commander, most Control players are quick to play lands, and Control decks are the biggest offenders when it comes to discarding lands to meet hand size.
THE POLITICAL PROBLEMS
One of the biggest challenges to getting people on the Land Destruction bandwagon is the politics. This is because when someone blows up lands, it’s a big deal. And when someone accidentally blows up the wrong lands or can’t defend their decision, the game experience quickly deteriorates.
I can speak from multiple experiences in this matter. Disproportionately, those games stick out as some of the toughest games I’ve ever played. I’ve lost to an Olivia Voldaren player that cast Jokulhaups with a Black Market out. I’ve been beaten handily by Sunder and Soulscour. Remember the player I mentioned that got their Plains blown up by a Wake of Destruction? Me. The target of that Ajani Vengeant Ultimate? Also me.
The reason I can be confident in my advocacy is that I’m still going to play the game until I know when to quit. That’s because Land Destruction can still make for good games, even if they aren’t the kind you expect. And it makes for great stories, especially if you, say, come back from having all your Plains blown up.
HOW TO PLAY LAND DESTRUCTION WITHOUT BEING A JERK
If you’re looking to introduce Land Destruction into your playgroup, but are worried about the consequences (trust me, there are going to be consequences), fret not! I’d like to recommend a handful of cards that can help you justify your choices to your local group or kitchen table.
Ruination is the most kid-friendly Land Destruction spell, and while it will draw hate, it will also likely inspire some mana base changes. If you’re nicer than me, you’ll probably like From the Ashes, too; it generates some decent goodwill.
Mono-Red Control is one of my favorite Commander fascinations. With some creative tinkering and serious artifact help, the archetype has picked up steam and evolved in recent years. Wildfire and Burning of Xinye are solid options in Daretti and Neheb decks, where netting extra mana is easy, and your Commanders are protected from being destroyed by the spell. These cards also play well with Destructive Force (the slightly bigger version), and if you’re playing Neheb, they can help clear the way for Commander damage.
A Titania, Protector of Argoth mainstay, Natural Balance is usually a justifiable inclusion because it can make a ton of 5/3’s or help you ramp back up to five lands, should you do the all-in thing I like to do. Fun times!
I’ve put Natural Balance and Keldon Firebombers together because they reset the board to even parity. While the destruction might be disproportionate, putting everyone on an even level and giving them a chance with three or five lands is significantly better than blowing everything up.
Desolation Angel is a personal favorite from my old Oros Land Destruction deck. What I liked about it was that it didn’t make much sense color-wise, but it found a proper home where my threat was also the thing that was blowing up the lands.
Bearer of the Heavens more resembles another favorite, Impending Disaster. I had taken my deck apart long before Bearer came out, but what I like about both cards is that they are massive “I dare you” cards that give your opponent(s) a degree of responsibility – or, in the case of a late-game Impending Disaster, a last chance to cast something before it goes off.
With aggressive mana costs, Armageddon and Ravages of War are more serious Land Destruction spells. Because you can set up threats easily, they fall into the same suite of backbreaking spells like Obliterate, Decree of Annihilation, Tectonic Break, and Apocalypse. While I don’t have a problem with them, approach these with caution if you are unsure about what your playgroup will accept (definitely ask!).
What do you think about Land Destruction? Be sure to let us know on Twitter at @Card_Kingdom!
Header design: Justin Treadway
Header image: “Armageddon” by John Avon